Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.
The Expansive Movement of Worship
That's the way the psalm begins—David prodding himself and prompting and urging himself and stirring himself up to bless the Lord. To bless means to say good things about the Lord in a spirit of admiration and gratitude and wonder. So David prods himself: Bless the Lord, soul; remember his benefits, speak of his wonders, tell of his greatness.
Then, after two verses of self-prodding, follow 17 reasons for blessing the Lord from verses 3–19—17 "benefits" that David has not forgotten, things about God that he cherishes and that make his soul bless the Lord.
And when he comes to the end of the list in verse 19, he can no longer settle for just calling his own soul to bless the Lord. He has remembered so much of God that he can't be satisfied until all the angels and all the works of creation join him in blessing the Lord. Verse 20ff.:
Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word! Bless the Lord all his hosts, his ministers that do his will! Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul!
God's Initiative to Reveal Himself
There is something about worship that is very expansive. There are impulses in it that want to be ever widening and stretching and swelling and increasing and enlarging and snowballing. It begins with God's initiative: he reveals who he is and what he is like (sometimes like the explosion of Mount Pinatubo blowing rocks 98,000 feet into the sky over Luzon; sometimes like a hen gathering tiny yellow chicks under her wing).
Spiritual Perception and Partial Response
And then, by the grace of God, we see the revelation of his glory. We see it in past benefits and wonders. We see it in present mercies. We see it in future promises. But there is always a sense of shortfall between our spiritual perception of the greatness of God and our spiritual affection in worshiping God. The intensity of the heart never seems up to what his glory deserves.
Prodding Our Souls to Worship
That's why one of the most common impulses of genuine worship is to plead with your own soul: "Bless the Lord, O my soul!" Come on, soul, where are you? Why do you sleep before this God? Why are you dull and sluggish? Wake up! Look at what God has done! Look at what he is like!
We feel like part of us sees and begins to feel and respond to the greatness of God's holiness. But part of us doesn't. So we preach to ourselves, "Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name." All that is within me. Not just part of me. Genuine worship is almost always conscious that our response to God is only partial. "All that is within us"—every fiber of our being—is not blessing God.
But the very recognition of this shortcoming is worship—our sense of discontent that our soul isn't fully kicking-in signals how great the worth of God really is. Otherwise we wouldn't be pressing for a deeper response. And crying out against the shortcoming of our soul, like David does, is even more worship. "Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me—not just some of me, not just half my heart, not just half my energy, not just half my mind, but all that is within me—bless his holy name."
Calling All Creation to Join Us in Worship
But the expansive impulse of worship doesn't stop there. We want worship to expand and take over all of our being—"all that is within me, bless his holy name!" But we want more than that. When you have really seen the greatness of God, and you know that there is only one God over all the world and all the universe, the impulse of worship expands to say (v. 20), "Bless the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word . . . (v. 22) bless the Lord all his works, in all places of his dominion."
In other words, it's not enough for everything in us to bless the Lord. We want everything in the universe to bless the Lord. The joy of worship is expansive. Our joy in blessing God increases as more and more of God's creation joins us in blessing the Lord. This is what the universe was made for—God created us for his glory (Isaiah 43:7); he chose us for his name's sake (Jeremiah 13:11); he saved us for his everlasting praise (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14).
So worship moves, with its expansive impulse, from God's initiative to reveal himself, to our spiritual perception of his glory and partial response, to our prodding and urging our own souls to bless him, to our calling all creation to join us in praise.
The History of Our Church
That is what this room has been dedicated to for 106 years here, and what we look back on with tremendous gratitude and wonder here today. On June 22, 1871, 22 members of First Baptist Church were granted letters of transfer to start the new First Swedish Baptist Church of Minneapolis. That body of believers has been sustained without break or division for 120 years. Those of us who belong by covenant commitment to the body of Christ at Bethlehem are part of that church. So I don't want to say "they" did this or that, but rather "we" did this or that.
When Bethlehem Began, the World Was Different
We built our first building on the corner of 12th Avenue and 6th Street (where the Douglas Company is now) and dedicated it in March 1874. Eleven years later on March 6, 1885, that new building was destroyed by fire. But less than two months later, May 1, 1885, we purchased this building for $13,500 from the Second Congregational Church. So for 106 years we have been worshiping—blessing the Lord—in this sanctuary.
What makes the continuity in worship so remarkable, so worthy of wonder and thanks to God, is that the 120 years between the founding of this church and today have been the decades of greatest change in human history. When Bethlehem began, there were no computers, no lasers, no atomic power, no radar, no space travel, no planes, no cars, no video cassettes or tape cassettes, no television, no radio, no telephone, no movies, no fiberglass or nylon or steel, no automatic toasters or electric dishwashers or clothes washers or refrigerators or vacuum cleaners or light bulbs. It was literally another world.
One Thing Has Remained the Same
But one thing has remained the same, and that is what this psalm is about. God remains the same. Verses 15–18:
15) As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16) for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.
17) But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear him, and his righteousness to children's children, 18) to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.
The steadfast love of the Lord has been the same through all the changes of the last 120 years. For 5,514 Sundays (give or take a Sunday) God has met his people here and he has always been the same—before and after the electric light, before and after the car, before and after the radio and the television and the sound system and the computer.
"The steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting and his righteousness to children's children." One of the 22 founding members of this church was August Malmsten. A little more than a week ago we buried his son, Wyman Malmsten. But Wyman's daughter Marlys and his granddaughter Alice are still among us. This is just one example of the generations that have been continuous at Bethlehem. His righteousness to children's children—to those who keep his covenant—is everlasting.
So for 106 years God has met us in this sanctuary and we have blessed his holy name in worship. And he in turn has done some wonderful things among us.
"Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits."
Remembering Some of God's Benefits
I want us to draw the service to a close this morning by remembering some of his benefits. God has worked here in this room in tens of thousands of ways over the last 106 years. I think this psalm is calling us, as we leave, to thank him for the work he has completed and to ask his blessing on the work he has begun. A lot of what has begun in this room is still in process all over the world.
I would like to have people stand who experienced the work of God in the following ways.
"Bless the Lord, O my soul."
All stand because you are here this morning. Sit if you have been attending less than five years. Sit if you started coming to Bethlehem in the last ten years . . . 20 years . . . 30 years . . . 40 years . . . 50 years . . . 60 years.
Pray: "But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear him." Thanks for the work done and bless the work to be done.
2. Conversion and Baptism
Verse 2: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity . . . (v. 10) He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor requite us according to our iniquities."
If you became a Christian or were baptized while attending Bethlehem, or if you became a Christian through the influence of someone who was attending Bethlehem, please stand.
Pray: "As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear him" (vv. 12–13). Thanks for the work done and bless the work to be done.
3. Life Changing Direction
Life changing direction from the Lord received through the influence of worship and the Word in this room. Verse 7: "He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel."
Pray: Thanks for the work done and bless the work to be done.
4. Marriage and Children
Verse 5: "He satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's." For some the good that God gives has included marriage and children. For others the good that he gives is the single life. But this room has been the place of many marriage commitments and many dedications of children. If you were married in this room or in the chapel, please stand. And if you have dedicated children to the Lord here, please stand.
Pray: "The steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear him and his righteousness to children's children" (v. 17). Thanks for the work done and bless the work to be done.
God's Sovereign Reign: Past, Present, and Future
And so we come to the end of an era—106 years of blessing the Lord in this sanctuary. But there is a truth that has grasped our lives at Bethlehem that makes us know beyond any doubt that we are not finished blessing God, nor will we every be finished. The truth is found in verse 19:
The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.
God's reign is sovereign over all the past, all the present, all the future, all the building, all the planning, all the worship and conversions and life decisions and marriages and births and deaths and dreams. And therefore he cannot fail in his purpose that every knee in heaven or on earth or under the earth will bow and every tongue confess his Son as Lord of all to the glory of God's sovereign reign over all things.
He is not yet done with us. There is a new chapter opening for us, and God is the greatest, most exciting author in the universe.
As we sing "O God Our Help in Ages Past," let us renew our submission to his sovereign grace.